Late Nineteenth & Early Twentieth Century Muslim Immigration

It is really not until the 20th century, however, that we find significant communities of Muslims in the United States. It was Muslim immigrants and African Americans, who converted to Islam in the twentieth century, who established many of the communities that thrive throughout the United States to this day.

Mother Mosque of America Cedar Rapids

The Mother Mosque of America in Cedar Rapids, built in 1934

The first significant wave of voluntary Muslim immigrants occurred during the last decades of the nineteenth century and into the beginning of the twentieth century, consisting primarily of immigrants from the Middle East (and Ottoman Empire), notably Lebanon and Syria.1 These immigrants were followed by other Muslim immigrants from southeastern Europe, notably Bosnia, and then from the Indian subcontinent in the early years of the twentieth century.2 It is difficult, however, to estimate the number of Muslim immigrants during this time. Muslims were often outnumbered by immigrants of different faiths from the same region, and as US immigration officials and the US census did not collect information on religion, it is difficult to conclusively determine how many among these immigrants were Muslim.3 However, scholars have estimated that at least forty thousand Muslim immigrants had entered the US by 1920.4

  1. Jane Smith, “Islam in America,” in The Columbia Guide to Religion in American History, ed. Paul Harvey, Edward J. Blum, and Randall Stephens (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 367.

  2. “Early American Mosques,” The Pluralism Project, Harvard University, last accessed September 22, 2020, https://pluralism.org/early-american-mosques.

  3. Sally Howell, “Groundwork,” in The Cambridge Companion to American Islam, ed. Juliane Hammer and Omid Safi (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 47.

  4. Sally Howell, “Groundwork,” in The Cambridge Companion to American Islam, ed. Juliane Hammer and Omid Safi (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 47.

Following World War I, some Muslims immigrated from the collapsing Ottoman Empire.5 However, this period also saw a reduction in immigration overall, following racially and religiously-based changes in immigration policy that sought to restrict immigration from non-European countries.

  1. Jane Smith, “Islam in America,” in The Columbia Guide to Religion in American History, ed. Paul Harvey, Edward J. Blum, and Randall Stephens (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 367.